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Newspapers suspended; opposition assaulted and threatened

The six-month suspension of two Rwandan newspapers has ensured they won't be able to report on presidential elections in August, gagging alternative voices, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Also, opposition members and activists critical of government policies are increasingly under attack, says Human Rights Watch.

President Paul Kagame told parliament that "newspapers that spread rumours will be closed," reports RSF. On 13 April Rwanda's Media High Council shut down the private Kinyarwandan-language weeklies "Umuseso" and "Umuvugizi", known for their critical coverage of the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

The Council is an independent body greatly influenced by the state. It accused "Umuseso" of insulting the head of state, inciting the police and army to insubordination and creating fear among the public. But the accusations were not connected to any articles. "It suppresses all critical journalism... ensuring that the election campaign will be tightly controlled and monolithic," said RSF.

In February, "Umuseso's" publisher, Charles Kabonero, its editor, Didas Gasana, and one of its reporters, Richard Kayigamba, were sentenced to six- and 12-month jail sentences and a fine. The three were accused of libel and invasion of privacy for reporting that a government minister was having an extra-marital affair with the mayor of Kigali.

Any kind of opposition is being brutally suppressed in this election year. In February, a member of the FDU-Inkingi - a new opposition party - was kicked and punched by a mob after being lured to a local government office in a well-planned assault, says Human Rights Watch. Victoire Ingabire, president of the FDU-Inkingi, has faced an intensive campaign of public vilification and been widely condemned for saying that crimes committed against Hutu citizens by the RPF and the Rwandan army should be investigated and those responsible brought to justice. In 2009 several opposition party meetings were broken up by police, sometimes violently. Recently, a member of the opposition Green Party was intimidated and threatened.

Meanwhile, journalist Godwin Agaba disappeared last month at a time when security agents are linking journalists to terrorism, reports the Media Institute (MI). Agaba previously worked for "Umuseso" newspaper, uncovering swindlers of public funds and "corrupt leaders" in his work.

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